Tunisia is a lovely country with some amazing scenery and plenty of brilliant archaeology and history. And we, of course, have played a part in that history. From quite early on.
In 1270, the future Edward I arrived off Tunis to join a French Crusade there, just as the French had given up, with their king dead, and were going home.
Then in the seventeenth century, England found itself at war with Tunis in a dispute over passengers sold as slaves. An English squadron happened to be roaming the Mediterranean at the time, so on 4 April 1655, rather than attacking strongly defended Tunis, Admiral Blake destroyed nine warships he happened to come across. Unfortunately for Blake, but not for the ruler of Tunis, the ships turned out to belong to the Ottoman Turks rather than the Tunisians and their destruction had zero effect on the position of the Tunisians. A peace was, however, negotiated in 1658.
In 1675 Sir John Narborough, with another squadron at his back, negotiated another peace with Tunis.
Then in 1796, yet another British squadron dropped by Tunis to recapture the twenty-eight-gun frigate Nemesis, which had been captured by the French. Boats slipped into Tunis harbour on the night of 9 March and achieved their objective with almost no opposition and no loss. In 1816, we were back in Tunis again. This time Lord Exmouth sailed in with a squadron to secure the release of captives and an agreement to abolish slavery.
Our major incursion into Tunisia came in the Second World War. On 15 November 1941, after the Operation Torch landings in Algeria, British forces pushed eastwards along the Mediterranean coast, reaching Tabarka just across the border from Algeria into Tunisia. But as the Allies advanced eastwards, at the same time the Germans and Italians were rushing in reinforcements to try to stop them.
Fighting raged through November and December as the Allies attempted to advance to take Tunis, with among other operations, 1 Commando landing west of Bizerte on 30 November in an attempt to outflank enemy positions, and with a bitter battle at the end of December in an attempt to take Djebel El Ahmera, Longstop Hill. Eventually, the advance was forced back and the Allied push into Tunisia from the west ground to a halt.
In February 1943, Rommel struck back at the Battle of Kasserine Pass with an offensive that surprised the Allies and did some damage, but ultimately came to a standstill in the face of stiffening Allied resistance and because of British advances on the other side of Tunisia. Here Montgomery’s Eighth Army had reached the Mareth Line, an old French line of fortifications designed originally to protect Tunisia from Italian forces in Libya, which had now been occupied and put to use by Tunisia’s Axis defenders. On 25 March, X Corps under General Horrocks managed to outflank the Mareth Line, and its defenders were forced to retreat north. American units joined the attack and eventually the Axis defenders were forced all the way back to Enfidaville.
In the west, the Axis forces mounted more attacks, but eventually the Allies regained the initiative and by mid-April the Axis forces were in a desperate position. On 6 May, the British IX Corps began the final assault, and on 7 May, while the Americans entered Bizerte, British tanks entered Tunis. On 13 May, Axis resistance ceased and over 230,000 prisoners of war were taken.